Research: 3D content can help improve learning

In a survey of high school students involved in the pilot, 76 percent said they preferred learning in 3D over traditional methods.

In one of the first significant studies of the effects of three-dimensional content on K-12 instruction, Colorado’s Boulder Valley School District (BVSD) found that the use of 3D content helped increase student engagement and led to better achievement in some cases—with the lowest-performing students seeing the greatest benefits.

Through a pilot project called “BVS3D,” Boulder Valley teachers used stereoscopic 3D content in eight classrooms within four schools during the 2010-11 school year.

The test sites included fourth-grade science and math classes at Douglass Elementary School, middle school science at Casey Middle School, high school science (including Advanced Placement Biology) at Monarch High School, and middle school social studies, math, and science in a special-needs context at Halcyon Middle-High School, a day treatment and educational facility for students with behavioral problems. Content providers included DesignMate, JTM Concepts, Cyber Anatomy, and Amazing Interactives.

BVSD partnered with Regis University in Denver to evaluate the results of the pilot project, and a formal report is expected next month. Len Scrogan, director of instructional technology for the district, shared the district’s early observations during the InfoComm 2011 conference in Orlando last week.

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A few findings stood out across all test sites, Scrogan said:

Higher levels of student engagement. BVSD observed three phenomena that suggested students were more interested in the content, he said: increased attention to the subject matter (focus), longer sustained focus on difficult materials (attention span), and better student behavior, as defined by fewer disruptions per lesson (classroom discipline).

Favorable reaction by students. In a survey of high school students involved in the pilot, 76 percent said they preferred learning in 3D over traditional methods. Elementary, middle school, and special-education feedback was similarly positive, Scrogan said.

Greater student clarity in understanding abstract concepts. “It provided a better visualization than the textbook,” said one student, referring to 3D renderings of cellular structures in biology. Another student said, “It was easier for me to picture it and understand the structure,” while a third said: “These 3D videos do help me learn [the content] easier, especially because I’m a visual learner. Seeing what is going on is much more helpful than just talking about it. … Because it’s in 3D, it’s literally in front of you.”

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